While many of us have experienced illness, loneliness and stress through this pandemic, COVID-19’s impact on vulnerable seniors has been especially distressing. Isolation has taken a toll on seniors living in long-term care homes and for those living independently. Lockdowns and restrictions affected seniors’ ability to connect with family, socialize, attend community programs or volunteer.
The need to make access to services and supports as easy and seamless as possible came sharply into focus at the start of the pandemic as seniors needed immediate access to food, mental health support and technology. With this lesson learned, and as many regions of Canada lift public health restrictions, we must put our knowledge into action. We know COVID-19 disproportionately impacted those already vulnerable in our communities – especially seniors. As communities cautiously re-open, we must make it simple for seniors and other vulnerable community members to access government and community supports now. This will address their needs today and help ensure they don’t fall behind in the future.
An inclusive and equitable recovery is a priority for United Way Centraides. Along with smart policy changes, this should include an easy and effective pathway to connect people to the services and programs that provide much needed supports. We welcomed the mandate letter for the Minister of Seniors calling for a single point of access to a wide range of government services and benefits. What if we took this one step further? What if we created a single point of entry to services and benefits offered by all levels of government as well as to programs offered by Canada’s community services infrastructure as well?
Enter 211 – an information and navigation service that helps people access local supports to meet all of life’s challenges. It’s free, confidential, and available 365 days a year in over 150 languages via phone, text and chat, and online. 211 maintains the largest database of government and social services in the country. Community navigators are trained to engage clients and understand the range of emotional, social, financial, and mental health needs they have. They provide referrals to services and programs offered by all levels of government and community service providers that can meet these needs. And, where needed, they follow-up to ensure people get the support they need. With support from the Government of Canada, United Way Centraide Canada enabled nationwide access to 211 for the first time in 2021. Now, the government can leverage the system so no senior falls behind as we reopen and recover from this pandemic.
We have learned through the pandemic that collaboration across sectors, party lines and levels of government is key to protecting and strengthening communities in challenging times. To ensure an equitable recovery as we rebuild our communities, we must remove silos now. The wide range of community services and government programs catalogued by 211 positions it well to be the one stop shop government requires to ensure no seniors slip through the cracks.
All seniors deserve access to benefits, programs and supports so they can live in dignity. By leveraging 211 as the front door to seniors’ supports, the federal government will ensure that seniors are only three numbers away from dialing in to the care and support they richly deserve.
– Dan Clement, President and CEO of United Way Centraide Canada